8" x 7"
Artist's traits are worth exploring if one wants to grow as an artist, or to understand what makes the artist tick. My list of growth traits for the next biennium is: Commitment, Courage, Creative Integrity, Decisiveness, Excellence, Generosity, Knowledge, and Self Understanding.
Explore my previous posts on the traits here.
Courage is a two-bit word, and my exploration of artistic courage has been a head-scratcher, to say the least. What is it, and how do you find some for yourself?
What is Artistic Courage?
"All art requires courage." Anne Tucker
Some disparage the hero as a social or literary myth, but don't tell that to me. I have walked among heroes of the martial kind, and have seen first-hand the results of their self-sacrifice. For me, heroism is not abstract myth, it's oral history told to me first hand.
Somewhere down the scale of societal value lies the sports hero, and I have not only met and listened to the tales of mountaineering legends, but I have actually gotten to climb with a few. Their acts are real, and not literary vehicles.
Artist Samuel Morse, Bemedalled
The art hero is a fairly rare beast compared to the ones mentioned above. I like JafaBrit's comment on artistic courage:"Artist courage for me is putting yourself out there even knowing that the world doesn't exactly love what you do. Risking being authentic and true to self knowing that your work has a fat chance of selling, but you try anyway and face the rejection or indifference." JafaBrit
See all of the comments on my courage post here.
Simon Schama's Power of Art series is an excellent study of the artist as hero. Schama and the heroic artist are not without their detractors. I credit Schama with his clarity of focus in our age, where convoluted and messy thinking discounts the personal courage obvious in the artists spotlighted in this series.
Matisse faced open derision from the public and art critics alike when he exhibited at the 1905 Salon d'Automne in Paris. Rude viewers would scratch at his canvases, or puddle the wet oil paint with their fingers. He was on the cusp of his revolutionary changes, and he would eventually remake art in the face of overt institutional prejudice.
Italian Olive Grove
22" x 28"
Pastel on Diane Townsend Paper
Get Some Courage
"Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared." Eddie Rickenbacker
Using examples of courage has been a time-honored way to teach both respect for the trait, and perhaps put acolytes on the pathway to gaining courage. Being around courageous people, and studying about their lives and actions can help define and arouse courage in yourself.
Wolf Kahn studied under Hans Hoffman; Albrecht Durer was influenced by a constellation of important artists, including Bellini, Raphael and Leonardo. I have gotten advice from artists whom I respect, and have used them as mentors when I need direction.
In art, the study of artists who exhibit courage - artistic courage - is of great value to the one who seeks this trait. Even though the Internet is bare of examples, I find plenty of text about artistic heroism in my book reading.
In the Matisse biographies, Hilary Spurling relates the epic that involves the boy who must overcome the powerful social and bureaucratic inertia of 19th. century France to find his (singular and timeless ) artistic voice. Spurling describes his courage in bucking familial mores to go to academy in Paris, and then the impoverishment of life on meager coin, and the endurance necessary to advance in the narrow and competitive world of the atelier. And then, to buck that overbearing system and create his own statement and help found the era of Modern Art.
"Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities... because it is the quality which guarantees all others." Winston Churchill
"Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point." C.S. Lewis
The quotes by prominent Britishers C.S. Lewis and Winston Churchill seem to "bookend" courage around the other great traits. "Courage...guarantees all others," and "Courage is...every virtue at the testing point." If you will take these truths to heart, the bedrock of your courage will be established.
Photo credit: Lorie Klahn
How to Build Courage Through Personality Traits and States of Mind.See my source here. This information is from Sean Hannah and colleagues (Hannah, Sweeney & Lester, 2007) from the United States Military Academy.
Have Openness to Experience & Creativity.
"Creativity takes courage." Henri Matisse
Options are good, and may lead to greater creativity. The counter to this is fencing in the artist's opportunities. Don't let him draw abstraction; keep her painting indoors only; limit their voices to one world view only. These limits are sure to snuff-out creative courage and generate fear.
Engage in things that not only benefit yourself, but others as well. The good news for the older artist is that this trait has been shown to increase with age. Family, social, work, and marriage commitments can all be beneficial to your character, and that goes towards standing firm when the challenges hit.
Have Self Control and Emotional Stability.
While these traits were wholesale lacking in our favorite courageous artist, Vincent van Gogh, they do score big points in leading most of the rest of us towards improved backbone when courage is required. Clue: if you think that you have little or no control over life outcomes, and are prone to use the old saw, "they won't let me..," then your locus of control needs to be reviewed. Practice and review your "I can" inventory to improve your internal locus of control.
Be constant in your emotions.
Immediate State of Mind.
Have Self Confidence.
"Confidence, like art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions." Earl Gray Stevens
If you believe you can do it, then you will be more courageous when facing the dreaded fear of the blank page, or the overwhelming fear of the audience.
Exhibit Technical Prowess.
Do you have the tools, and do you know how to use them? Practical power can be found in buffing your technique. Want artistic courage? Draw 1,000 pictures this year, minimum.
"Tell a person they are brave, and you help them become so." Thomas Carlyle
Have confidence that the task is doable. It helps to succeed a few times, then keep those successes close at heart. This is one of the benefits of that old time device: the art medal. Post those victories; frame your certificates and awards.
Keep a positive attitude and a sense of humor! Decide to bounce back; get back in the saddle. Maintain your level of interest in things; read or have a hobby. Try a new medium. Study art history.
Got Core Traits?
Independence, selfless behavior, personal integrity and honor are fine core traits. Become influenced by things greater than yourself. You do recognize forces greater than yourself, don't you? Civilization, societal beliefs, religion, and philosophy are resources to look up to.
Seek out and engage courageous people. We've covered this ground, but remember to hang with successful artists, and think about what kinds of traits they exhibit.
Finally, let me leave you with this thought:
"Leadership is not about genius. It’s about courage." Brian Clark